NASCAR’s data and analytics evolution began with recognizing the need to put data and insights at the forefront of the organization’s business strategy. In 2016 the company established its Analytics & Insights group by consolidating teams spread across divisions into a single unit, so they could look across previously disparate inputs and measures. The group now includes members of their TV, Digital, Social, Consumer Insights and Sponsorship Measurement teams.
Importantly, executives decided that the group should report directly to the Chief Marketing Officer, not be relegated to a back room.
The reorganization spurred several initiatives, NASCAR:
- Recruited new members to increase the size their Fan Council. Their efforts grew the Fan Council by more than 50% — from 16,000 to 25,000 members — with a waiting list of those who want to join. This fan community plays a vital role in NASCAR’s research.
- Aligned the team that manages social and digital content with the Analytics & Insights group to ensure that metrics would be used to guide content decisions and thereby enhance fans’ experiences.
- Employed a variety of data specialists: those who analyze the data, those who tell stories around the data and “middle hybrids,” who can bridge between the two other groups.
- Established KPIs for each internal partner. This allowed the team to understand what analyses and reports would contribute to the greatest impact.
- Reconfigued relationships with external data companies, treating them as partners, not suppliers, to foster more productive interaction. These encompass not just data and analytics focused companies, but others such as race teams, sponsors and track operators.
These steps led to many new tactics and best practices, including:
- Improving product development and evolution by testing concepts with the Fan Council. The Fan Council now is leveraged to assess competitive ideas, measure driver likeability, determine segmentation strategies, and evaluate creative concepts and executions. In addition, NASCAR conducts live polling with the Fan Council during races to better understand these avid fans’ viewing habits. As one specific example, to determine how best to expand the NASCAR fantasy product, the Analytics & Insights group sought Fan Council input. The learning led to product enhancements that increased fan engagement and tripled the number of fans participating with the fanasty product.
- Providing more context around data. This involved finding new paths for increased insights. As one example, to understand better how NASCAR compares with other sports, the Analytics & Insights team set up a NASCAR Data Partner Summit to share the challenges it faces and future goals with its data partners. The improved relationships and trust encouraged the partners to offer richer data and insights, which added context to existing learning.
- Identifying what each data partner offered to narrow the list to those with the greatest value. The Analytics & Insights group examined the specialized knowledge that each potential data partner could bring around specific topics, looking at the range of needs expressed by the various internal clients it services. They selected only those partners judged to be versatile and able to provide meaningful and actionable data insights beyond the numbers.
- Establishing a new data lake to enable handling increasing amounts of available data. This project has the potential to spur better integration across multiple data sources.
- Creating stronger partnerships with the internal technology team. The ability to leverage technology more effectively helped the Analytics & Insights group move quickly and surface new opportunities, e.g., allowing NASCAR to embrace fragmentation, not run from it.
The results have improved NASCAR’s ability to predict trends and solve problems. For example, the group can better track sentiments to identify and act on potential issues early on. Also, their clearer understanding of how fans want to engage with NASCAR has generated better content and PR approaches. The benefits of this learning extend beyond internal applications: it informs how NASCAR works with marketing partners, e.g., what promotions it may recommend to each sponsor, based on fan preferences.
As part of this, NASCAR created a proprietary social audience platform that tracks more than 200 variables. One application is deepening the understanding of how fans relate to different race car drivers in social media. Based on the “matches” among drivers and different fan segments, the team is able to target creative more effectively, e.g., improving video messaging and working with influencers. These tactics have extended reach to various segments.
Going forward, NASCAR’s seeks to continue to strengthen its predictive abilities. Examples include learning how engagement varies at certain times of a race, how inclement weather may affect fan engagement, and the impact of various forms of content on fan interaction. Among the challenges: taking the huge amounts of data coming in and making it simple. Even so, recent successes have increased their confidence that their goal is achievable.
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